By Alan Markoff
The last four months have been busy for Dart’s President Real Estate Asset Management, Justin Howe.
In his role as president, one of Howe’s many responsibilities includes overseeing Dart’s leased properties, which include those occupied by office, retail, service and hospitality tenants. In addition to Camana Bay and Cayman International School, these properties also include Regatta Office Park, Flagship Building, Island Plaza, Cayman Islands Yacht Club and others.
In total, there are more than 200 tenants leasing Dart’s properties in the Cayman Islands and during the COVID-19 pandemic, all of them were impacted by the 11-week shelter-in-place order and the mandatory closure of most businesses which resulted in employees working from home.
As the tourism sector accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP, almost 8,000 Cayman Islands residents work in tourism-related industries.
It is at times like this when having a secure landlord can make a big difference to businesses struggling with a sudden and unexpected decline in revenues. Dart rallied around its tenants giving support wherever possible, in particular to those hard hit by the sudden shutdown of the tourism industry, such as retail tenants at Camana Bay, Cayman Islands Yacht Club and North Sound Golf Club.
More than anything, Howe wants to see Dart’s tenants thrive and come back strong at the other end of COVID-19.
“Their success means a shared success for everyone – tenants, customers and ourselves as landlords,” he says. “Our tenants are an important part of the life and vibrancy of our developments and indeed the broader Cayman Islands economy, and they help create the exceptional opportunities and experiences that enrich all of our lives.”
Since the government has ended the shelter-in-place order, most of Dart’s tenants that were closed by COVID-19 regulations have reopened. Retail shops are allowing customers to shop and restaurants are able to welcome dining patrons indoors once again. Howe hopes the public will support these businesses in the coming months.
“When COVID-19 reached the shores of the Cayman Islands, Dart moved to put in place measures to help tenants weather the storm, particularly those whose business models relied on tourism,” he said. “Now that our tenants have reopened, we encourage residents to support these businesses, which in turn helps support the greater economy of the Cayman Islands.”
In addition to tenants returning to their primary place of work, Dart’s employees are already making their return to their headquarters at 89 Nexus Way and two of Dart’s hotels — Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — have now reopened for resident dining, spa services and “staycations.” The Cayman Islands Yacht Club is also now open and operational.
Being a good landlord starts with having professional, competent and caring people managing the tenant relationships. “We have best-in-class property management and facilities teams, led by Senior Vice President Linda Podlaski,” Howe says. “As could be expected, our tenants communicated myriad daily concerns, questions and exigencies that needed to be addressed and the team did an incredible job responding to them quickly.”
During the government-mandated closure, Dart’s offices were closed and the property management team worked remotely from home. However, Dart secured exemption certificates for key maintenance and technical staff to ensure those tenants who were deemed essential — such as Foster’s, Camana Bay’s banks and healthcare providers, and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service station at Regatta Office Park — were all fully supported.
“It was a challenge for our property management staff to very suddenly have to change the way they work, doing it alone from home instead of in the office where colleagues can help with ideas, solutions and moral support,” says Howe. “But, with the help of our modern platforms, they were able to communicate efficiently with each other and our tenants. In the end, the transition was virtually seamless from a tenant service level.”
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far from over, but Howe and the rest of Dart are looking at how they can help with the economic recovery of the Cayman Islands. Injecting money into the local economy through development, while simultaneously spurring employment, is something Dart has already committed to do.
Several of Dart’s projects in Camana Bay that were under way from early this year have already recommenced, or will restart in the near future. These include the high school facilities at the US$60 million expansion of Cayman International School, which was already more than half completed; a 10-storey, 89-unit for-lease residential building; and another office building at Camana Bay, 60 Nexus Way. Construction on Camana Bay’s, OLEA — a for-sale residential community which is a joint venture between Dart and NCB Group — has also resumed with planned occupancy for phase one in the first quarter of 2021. “As a leading developer in the Cayman Islands, we realise that we can have a big impact on the local economy by just continuing to do what we do best,” says Howe. “And we are doing just that with new construction projects like the commercial and residential buildings that are projected to inject US$115 million into the local economy.” (source)
In addition to those construction projects, a consortium led by Decco is also working on the remediation test pad at the George Town Landfill, an exercise that will inform the process for capping and covering operations for the full landfill, planned as part of the new Integrated Solid Waste Management System in the Cayman Islands.
Howe said Dart is looking at the feasibility of several other development projects as well.
“Our shareholder, Ken Dart, and the rest of us here at Dart, remain committed to the long-term prosperity of the Cayman Islands,” he says. “We are also committed to being a world-class landlord to our tenants, which is how we can best support them.”
Howe says it will take the assistance of the entire community to overcome the impacts of COVID-19.
“Although most of our tenants have now reopened to some degree, without tourists many have experienced a financial impact,” he says. “We encourage members of the public to support local business by taking a staycation, dining out, seeing a movie or doing some shopping. This will not only help these businesses weather the COVID-19 storm, but will also support the greater economy of the Cayman Islands while simultaneously giving people a welcome respite following the 11-week shelter-in-place regulations.”
About the author
Alan Markoff has worked with Dart as the editor for Camana Bay Times for three years and has been writing professionally since 1997. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Alan graduated from the State University of New York at Albany with a degree in English, and first moved to the Cayman Islands in 1982. He has 16 years of experience in the real estate industry and previously worked as a journalist for Cayman Compass before joining Dart to relaunch the Camana Bay Times monthly newspaper. An avid baseball fan, Alan loves travelling but also schedules trips back home around catching a summer game or two with his home team, Cleveland Indians.